Green Adder’s-mouth orchid, Rabun County, Georgia — 2018-06-05

I have to give a big shout-out to photographer and good friend, Liz Fox, for finding a very nice population of Malaxis unifolia or Green Adder’s-mouth orchid in Tallulah Gorge State Park, near Tallulah Falls, Rabun County, Georgia. She saw my last post highlighting the Pitcher Plants at a remote bog in Rabun County, and then mentioned that she had just seen the orchids after she stopped on her way home to give her canine companions a rest stop. She remembered that I had been in the park as part of my trip the day before. That’s the way it works. Sometimes we find great plants when we least expect it.

Green Adder's-mouth orchid Green Adder’s-mouth orchid

This particular orchid species tends to prefer a dry, well-drained, acidic environment. It is often found growing near or under the branches of conifers such as pines and spruces. These tree types shed needles on an annual basis, causing the soil to be acidic.

Malaxis unifolia orchids are found in all of the eastern U.S. states as well as the eastern provinces of Canada. The following map, created by The Biota of North America Program, shows county records for Malaxis unifolia in North America:

Map generated by BONAP

In addition, Malaxis orchids are found all over the world — almost 200 species. However, each of the 11 Malaxis orchid species found in North America produce some of the smallest flowers of any of our native orchid species.

The less than 1/8-inch (3 mm) green flowers of Malaxis unifolia are rather oddly shaped, and they tend to pull away from the stem as the stem elongates. If you look straight down on a blooming plant, it is easy to see that the flattened inflorescence harbors a group of unopened buds just waiting for their time to pull away from the stem and to open:

Green Adder's-mouth orchid

As the stem elongates, the open flowers tend to form a cylinder shape which can reach 4 inches (10 cm) or more in length. The plant’s single, glossy green leaf (very rarely two leaves) clasps the stem about halfway up. The epithet, “unifolia”, means “one leaf”, but orchids don’t always get the email. Here is an image of the leaves of a 2-leaf plant I photographed in Minnesota several years ago:

2-leaf Green Adder's-mouth orchid plant

As a side note: While prone on the ground for photography purposes, I received some puzzling looks from passers-by. That’s not unusual though, as others of you surely know — just a hazard of the job.

The plants at this Rabun County, Georgia site varied in height from 4-10 inches (10-25 cm). Here are a few shots of these plants:

Green Adder's-mouth orchid Green Adder's-mouth orchid
Green Adder's-mouth orchid Green Adder's-mouth orchid
Green Adder's-mouth orchid Green Adder's-mouth orchid

Green Adder's-mouth orchid

If you are wondering what the site looks like, here are two shots. In the approximate center of each shot, a flowering orchid plant can be seen:

Green Adder's-mouth orchid site

Green Adder's-mouth orchid site

This was a surprise blog post for me. Had it not been for Liz Fox’s email, I would have missed these orchids.

I have a couple of special orchids trips planned for the next two months, but where orchids are concerned, there is no guarantee that they will show up this year. More than once, I’ve traveled more than a thousand miles to see a particular orchid species in flower, only to find it in bud. That’s one of the characteristics that make this plant family so special to me.

Until next time…



  • J. Dan Pittillo

    Your photographs are excellent. You do very good macro photography!

    June 05, 2018
  • Charles Argue


    June 06, 2018
  • diane

    We saw something ID’d as Adderr’s tongue in the Smoky Mts National Park during the wildflower pilgrimage. Is this the same or different?

    June 06, 2018
  • tom sampliner

    outstanding images as always. This is a very difficult subject to depict and your images certainly stand out from among those who would attempt to photograph. The commentary also as always is highly readable and entertaining and educational

    June 06, 2018
  • Max Smith

    I will have to keep an eye out for these. The single leaf looks very close to something I remember growing in the woods behind my childhood home and also in a nearby wooded natural area (a plant I never had a name for).

    June 12, 2018

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